In this world of crazy reasons to buy things, we take a closer look at sales figures for two well-known SUVs. The luxurious Lexus GX 460 ($51,680 base MSRP) and the sporty Mazda CX-9 ($31,520 base MSRP). Not only are they separated by the cost of an entire Honda HR-V (around $20K), they look, feel, and drive completely different from each other. 

We've driven both vehicles extensively, and the CX-9 is by far the better vehicle, regardless of price, yet the sales figures aren't commensurate with its greatness. The GX 460, by comparison, isn't just far more expensive, it's also not a great vehicle to drive in spite of its high level of luxury. The fact that the aging GX is now in the 9th year of its second generation means its more than a bit of a dinosaur, whereas the CX-9 got the full redesign just last year. 


The CX-9's exterior design packs a one-two punch of elegance and sportiness. The proportions are near perfect with short overhangs and a long hood and slightly tapering greenhouse. There are no trendy creases, floating roof or faux vents that serve no purpose. It's a vehicle that looks good from just about every angle. Mazda designers performed a masterful job of making the CX-9 look slick instead of just bulky like every other large SUV.  

The GX 460, though the recipient of a mild exterior refresh, still looks awkward to us. The spindle grille is menacing but a bit polarizing, and the rear of the vehicle still seems way too tall and narrow for a vehicle of this size. It's ungainly compared to the svelte and sinewy CX-9. Sure, the GX now has more chrome, a bigger grille and fancier wheels, but it still comes across as lipstick on a pig.

In terms of performance and driving thrills, the CX-9 shines. Though it's not as powerful as the GX 460 (227 versus the GX's 301), the CX-9 has almost as much torque (310 vs. 329). The CX-9, however, is much lighter (4,301 lbs vs. 5,199), giving it better driving dynamics and almost as much grunt to 60 mph as the big Lexus (7.2 seconds for the Mazda and 7.0 seconds for the Lexus), even though the Lexus has twice as many cylinders with its big V8. But the Mazda actually feels faster thanks to the low-end thrust of the 4-cylinder Dynamic Pressure Turbo engine. It has plenty of power to get into traffic and stay with it, plus it handles like a dream. Take the Lexus into a turn, and you feel the corpulence that's also paired with some pretty numb steering. The Mazda, though, drives like a tall sports car and provides tremendous driving thrills for a vehicle that can transport 7 people in comfort. 

cx9 interior

Find Local Discounts on the Mazda CX-9

If you put the two interiors side-by-side, you also notice a huge difference. The Mazda's cabin, in Signature trim, looks fresh and alive, whereas the Lexus looks blocky and dated. The rich auburn Nappa leather combined with the open pore rosewood give the CX-9 one of the nicest interiors we've seen, and it wouldn't be a stretch to call it opulent. The crisp round gauges are easy to read, and the Mazda Connect system has perfectly placed controls between the seats and a large 8-inch touchscreen on top of the dash that has excellent legibility and graphics.

The Signature trim level gives you everything with absolutely zero options to send the price up. Here are just some of the great standard features that come with the Signature trim:

  • Nappa leather-trimmed seats, 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support, 4-way power passenger seat, leather wrapped steering wheel with unique stitching
  • Genuine Rosewood interior trim, genuine aluminum interior trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
  • 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
  • Power sliding-glass moonroof with sunshade, 2nd-row retractable window sunshades
  • Auto on/off headlights and an Adaptive Front-Lighting System, LED headlights and taillights
    LED Daytime Running Lights
  • Windshield-projected Active Driving Display, three-zone automatic climate control
  • Bose® Centerpoint® 2.0 Surround Sound System with AudioPilot® and 12 speakers
  • Mazda Navigation System and Multi-information display
  • Lane Departure Warning System, Lane Keep Assist, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Rear backup sensors, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) System, Rearview Camera
  • Power rear liftgate with programmable height adjustment, heated side mirrors
  • 8" full-color touch screen display
  • Mazda Advanced Keyless entry and start system
  • Heated front seats, Leather trimmed seats (1st and 2nd-row outboard seating positions)

The Mazda makes the Lexus interior feel less than special. The seating position is too upright, and the center stack looks antiquated. It's pretty clear that Lexus is letting this one get too long in the tooth because small updates seem tacked on and unworthy of a premium SUV. The 8-inch touchscreen in the Lexus is the same size as the Mazda, but it both looks and operates like something much older. The Enform setup needs reworking to look modern, and the vague controller makes driving painfully distracted. 

gx 460

gx 460 interior

Find Local Discounts on the Lexus GX 460

Finally, there's the fuel economy. Even though gas prices are still pretty good, there's no question that the CX-9 is the more savvy choice when it comes to efficiency. It gets 20 city / 29 highway, and the big Lexus only manages 15 city / 20 highway. Couple that with the fact that the Mazda actually has more cargo space (14. 4 cubic feet with the seats in place and 71.3 cubic feet using the seat area) than the GX 460 (11.6 cubic feet with the seats in place and 64.7 cubic feet using the seat area), and it's easy to see why the Mazda is the clear winner. 

Too bad more customers don't see it this way, largely because of badge cred. Folks want to be seen in a premium badged SUV, even if it's smaller, heavier, less fun to drive and more dated both inside and out. This is an utter tragedy in our book since the CX-9 is better in just about every way and costs far less, even fully outfitted. We priced out the top trim CX-9, and it came to $46,810, about $20K less than a similarly optioned GX. Sure, the GX will probably get redesigned soon, but even then we think the CX-9 will still be the better vehicle. The only reason, in our book, to buy the Lexus would be for towing purposes since it pulls 6,500 pounds compared to the CX-9's 3,500 pound towing capacity. So, unless you own a boat, stick with the Mazda.